It was about time to get the word 'women' into 'mentor'. So, I did. Just launched my new company twomentor (t-women-tor), LLC to get the words 'women' and 'men' into STEM mentoring. It will take a unified approach. Today we celebrate twomentor's one month anniversary with this blog and luckily not Pampers and Medella equipment at this stage of raising her.
So do girls and young women need a role model, a mentor or a sponsor? Likely all three along their professional paths.
If we want to recruit, develop, retain great girls & women in the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) workforce we need to look at the whole pipeline and what women most need at different phases.
Reflecting back, I realize I needed three things personally and professionally:
1] A Role Model
2] A Mentor
3] A Sponsor
A role model was needed to show examples of great women: in science, in Senate, as leaders, board members, in tech, as business owners, and perhaps soon as President of the USA. The women in my family also served as key role models of women who found professional fulfillment, have families, and hung out with great loyalty with their girl friends (Mom and Ina just celebrated 55 years 'together' as BFFs). My father who came to America as a refugee from Hungary served also as a powerful example of resiliency and perseverance. He also taught me gratitude.
A mentor took on the role in a socratic way of helping me find answers within myself. In middle school a mentor (Karen C.) gave me an internship and taught me that I love small business. She let me work at her store for three years and helped me build some skills such as: inventory management, running the cash register, making marketing signs with Mr. Sketch pens, customer service and more. Mostly, she taught me to love work. I haven't stopped working since, a dozen jobs and a few degrees later. A college mentor taught me how to get my work published and how to see others in their plights. A peer mentor got me into an interview for my first job at the company she worked at. Another mentor more recently taught me how to use a 3D printer. One of my mentors is a 72 year old dynamo and one is a 19 year old tech whiz.
Mentors came into my life as welcomed guides and were both male and female. One common ingredient was they all reflected that I had to have faith in myself, and they challenged me to climb the work 'tree' to new heights. Believing in me often before I believed in myself.
While a Mentor encourages one to climb the work 'tree' to new heights, a sponsor takes on the role of going out on a limb for others. In other words, a mentor speaks to you and a sponsor speaks about you and advocates for you behind closed doors. Mike Caslin was such a sponsor in my life and I wrote about him HERE. Mike mentored me when I ran Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship in a few markets and then he championed me to take his national VP job after serving the company 20 extraordinary years. Other people wanted the job and he was the one to say 'Let's choose Julie.' At several conferences recently, women would approach me and ask how to get such a sponsor. From all these discussions & research, I am becoming more convinced that we lose professional women mid-career because they do not have a sponsor.
I reflect back and clearly understand I needed three things from girl to career woman: a Role Model (s), a Mentor (s), a Sponsor (s). I think my start-up needs all three, and gratefully, they are all swirling around twomentor, llc as key advisors.
But I need to acknowledge something else here.
I am also now needed more than ever to be a Role Model, a Mentor and/or a Sponsor and I suspect you are too. It's time to start. Start simple (invite her/him for coffee chat). Start soon. Invest in her. Pay it forward.
Julie Kantor is a global speaker on women in STEM, President & CEO of Twomentor, LLC offering mentor training and strategy to America's top corporations. She is also Senior Advisor to Million Women Mentors and STEMconnector.